Social Isolation and Cognitive Function in Middle-aged and Older Adults: A Prospective Analysis of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging

Oremus, Mark | $195,075

Ontario University of Waterloo 2021 CIHR Project Grant

Social interaction and cognitive function are critical to aging well. As humans are social beings, social isolation may worsen mental health conditions, lower quality of life and access to health services, and lead to adverse health outcomes. Poor cognitive function reduces independence and quality of life, and increases the chances of developing dementia, being institutionalized, or dying. Scientists believe social isolation can lead to poor cognitive function. However, the links between social isolation and cognitive function are not well understood. To understand these complex links, we will use data collected from more than 27,000 Canadians aged 45 to 85 years. These data include social, psychological, demographic, and health information collected at two points in time, spread three years apart. The collection of these data is made possible through a large investment from the federal government. Using this investment, we will conduct research to: 1) understand the impact of social isolation on cognitive function; and 2) identify vulnerable subgroups who may benefit the most from future interventions to address social isolation and thereby improve cognitive function. Our research fits into the domain of “social determinants of health” because we study social factors that positively or negatively affect healthy aging. Our specific focus is on social isolation and cognitive function. Social isolation is comprised of many elements such as a lack of social networks. Cognition is also multifaceted and will be examined for overall cognitive impairment, and within specific domains critical to healthy aging (memory and executive function). The data are rich and support this extensive investigation of social isolation and cognitive function, providing key evidence for social interventions to improve the health of middle-aged and older Canadians.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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